Dopers really do suck. This year's Tour de France has been hit severely by doping scandals and rider expulsions. Sponsors have pulled out of teams and for a moment it looked like the world of road cycling was about to come to an abrupt demise. Doom hung in the air like bad BO in a dank locker room.
In 1998, the Tour was rocked by the infamous Festina Affair. The road market at that time took a pretty solid hit. At that time though, the US market was still maturing into a road revival of sorts, so the hit was smaller here than it was for Europe. Still, it was noticeable. 1999 saw the first of Lance's seven Tour wins though and the US market started to climb again and the European market began to turn back around a couple years later as the media circus around Lance drew more and more attention to the sport.
This year's scandal has some bad things working with it to make things a little spooky again; Lance is retired so the US market is less interested (even with Floyd now in the lead of the Tour, as of today), the scandal impacts several teams and not just one and the road market is beginning to slow down on its own. All of these could combine for a "perfect storm" and really knock road sales back on their butt. Hopefully not...
Here is the good side of the story; in regards to the US market, the rise of other American riders has lessened the negative impact of Lance's departure (although Trek still seems to be marketing themselves as Lance's bike, as opposed to the rest of the team's), the market is still growing though slower than previous years, the Tour is still very exciting this year and is full of constant drama and the fans seem to be excited. Maybe, just maybe, the sport and the industry will survive.
Drug scandals rock all sports pretty badly from time to time. The whole Barry Bonds and Marion Jones BALCO drug scandal shook both baseball and track & field pretty good, but both have rebounded. Cycling is no different really. If anything, cycling gets a much worse reputation than it deserves- not that it isn't rife with doping problems. Cycling needs to clean up before it loses the fans and the sponsors both. The fans are becoming somewhat desensitized to the frequent doping allegations. That numbness might be one of the things to save the sport, as more and more fans seem to be simply accepting that incredible physical accomplishments seem to always come with strings attached.
Krew member Donna Tocci had some great thoughts about all of this and the far-reaching impacts. It is a big spider web and it reaches a lot of seemingly unrelated people. Drugs are like that- in sport as in life in general. The key for the cycling industry is to come clean and face the issue head on with honesty and transparency. By keeping the sponsors and fans happy that a solution is being sought, the sport might just keep both parties interested. For us marketers, it's going to mean spending a little less time focusing all our energies on one particular rider, but on the team instead- if involved in team sponsorships. If not, it's time to focus on the joy of cycling and less on racing. As this all plays out and things get even uglier, many sponsors are going to want to distance themselves from the stickinesss.
It should be an interesting summer as those of us in the industry watch to see what happens next.
So what is your take? Hell in a handbasket, or just a tempest in a tea cup?
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
Posted by Tim Jackson at 10:23 PM